Thursday 22 March 2018

Sunny days bring out best in colourful cistus

Gerry Daly

WHEN the sun shines, few plants look as splendid as the sunroses, and they have been wonderful in recent days. The sunrose, or cistus, is not a true rose but it has flowers that are very similar in shape, size and colour. The petals are large, five in number, as in single wild roses, and usually pink or white.

The petals are much more delicate than those of roses, tissue thin and crinkled like crepe-paper where they have been packed inside flower buds for months. Many kinds have a shiny surface to the flowers that reflects the sunlight.

Cistus comes from the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, where they grow on the dry slopes of sun-baked hills. Often the hills are covered almost completely with cistus, much as heather can cover the hills here, only taller, flowering before the heat of summer.

Here, they flower in June. The flowers come in a great splash, spread over about three weeks, with a few late flowers. The individual flowers only last a day. The timing of cistus flowering fills a gap before the main summer show of roses and perennial flowers.

Several sorts are widely grown in gardens, and they have no separate common names – just sunrose or cistus. All kinds are evergreen, perhaps losing a few leaves in a cold year. The very popular Cistus purpureus has large pink purple flowers with a dark-pink mark at the base of each petal.

With smaller flowers, Cistus pulverulentus is a vivid magenta-pink colour. 'Silver Pink' makes a mound of silvery pink flowers and 'Peggy Sammons' has pink flowers that have a bright white centre for contrast.

The white-flowered Cistus corbariensis is quite widely grown. It has dark-green leaves all year and covers itself in a remarkable display of small white flowers with a bright yellow centre. The petals litter the ground like confetti when they fall, but soon wither away.

The low-growing Cistus skanbergii, pink-flowered with greyish leaves, is a pretty, small and neat grower. One of the most beautiful is Cistus ladanifer, with large white flowers, deep purple blotches and resin-scented leaves.

Choose a sunny place with well-drained, relatively poor soil. Rich or heavy soil can make the plants very leafy and soft and prone to damage by strong winds. Cistus looks and grows well on a bank. No pruning is needed, ideally, as they do not get too big. Light pruning after flowering is alright, but they may not recover from hard pruning.

Irish Independent

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